Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Are Standardized Tests A Good Measure Of Academic Ability Or Progress?

Are Standardized Tests A Good Measure Of Academic Ability Or Progress?

“IIT and Microsoft do have a lot in common, optimism about the future, a belief that fundamental science will lead to breakthroughs that will let us solve some of the toughest problems that mankind faces, a belief that we can provide better tools than ever before and that we've really just scratched the surface.”
- Bill Gates

Standardized Tests
Standardized tests play a major role in education today, whether they are achievement tests measuring subject-specific knowledge or aptitude tests measuring scholastic readiness of students or competitive aspirants. The goal of the assessments is to provide a yardstick to evaluate a student's performance at school, university and competitive levels. However, the practice of using standardized tests for measuring academic ability and progress has been heavily debated. Both the supporters, as well as critics, are equally vocal about the relevance of standardized testing in today's modernized world and it has become crucial to analyze the arguments made by both sides.
A standardized test, as the name suggests, is a test that is given in a 'standardized' or consistent manner. Standardized tests are designed to have consistent questions, administration procedures, and scoring procedures. When a standardized test is administrated, it is done so according to certain rules and specifications so that testing conditions are the same for all the test takers.
Since the inception of the Indian Education system, examinations have existed to test the academic abilities of the students. The capabilities of a student are often judged by how well they perform in a test. Examinations at the school level can be used to judge how well a student's brain is able to process information and convert it into usable knowledge. Many schools conduct weekly tests and examinations for the continuous assessment of students. These tests have both objective as well as subjective questions.
Another realm of standardized tests that exists in India is that of competitive examinations. These examinations play a vital role in determining the future of an individual. They are also referred to as high-stakes' tests. Cracking these examinations ensures that the student has reserved a seat in the course of their preference. A few of the most prestigious entrance examinations include IIT-JEE, NEET, GATE, CLAT and UPSC.
There are a number of advantages associated with subjecting a student to these standardized tests. Standardized tests exist in a number of forms and that can prove to be a good measure to assess a student's mental ability and critical thinking skills. Achievement tests are designed to measure the academic progress they have made over a period of time and are subject specific. Aptitude tests attempt to predict a student's ability to succeed in an intellectual or physical endeavor and forecast how well a student will perform in a particular educational field or settings. Psychological tests, including IQ tests, are used to measure a person's cognitive abilities and mental emotional developmental and social characteristics.
College admissions tests/Competitive examinations are used in the process of deciding which students will be admitted to a collegiate program. These competitive examinations are a good judge of how much capability a student possesses with regard to the course they want to pursue which in turn determines how well they will perform at the university level. Many core concepts learnt by the students are put to the test using these examinations, which are also used when they pursue the undergraduate course of their choice.
Competitive examinations like the IIT-JEE and UPSC examination are one of the most difficult examinations to crack in the world due to the level of questions asked and the stringent practice of negative marking. This is done to ensure that the student is incredibly confident with what they have prepared and attempted. Many of these tests have also become computerized which allows speed assessment of results.
While preparing for the examination, the students can gauge whether they are interested in the course or not as it is a matter concerned with their future. These tests are a good indicator of a student's aptitude in a competitive environment as all the students have to write the same topics in the same amount of time. All students, in school or appearing for entrances are given a fed syllabus which contains all the topics they need to prepare. This allows them to strategically plan out what and how they need to study in order to obtain the maximum marks. The students also learn how to deal with an increased amount of pressure and can apply this skill to other aspects of life.
Even with many advantages in its ambit, standardized tests are plagued by a number of disadvantages. The teachers are often put in a box and are not allowed to teach the curriculum in their own way and are restricted by the lesson plan already provided to them. They do not have the freedom to map out the lesson plan they would want to implement. This has also led the students to fall into a rat race. Restrictive thinking of society has blinded them from the plethora of opportunities available. These tests also inculcate the practice of cheating, as each and every student is "success oriented and will do anything to achieve the desired result.
From a students' perspective, some cannot handle the mental pressure that is involved in preparing for these examinations that lead to the development of a number of mental disorders like test related anxiety and bipolar depression. These high-stakes tests can take a toll on the student both physically and psychologically. In extreme cases, students feel trapped and cannot find a way out, inevitably causing them to end their misery and confusion by committing suicide. India has seen an unprecedented rise in suicide in recent years.
In standardized exams, all test takers answer the same questions under the same conditions usually in multiple-choice format. Such tests reward quick answers to superficial questions. They do not measure the ability to think deeply or creatively in any field. Their use encourages a narrowed curriculum, outdated methods of instruction, and harmful practices such as grade retention and tracking. This often leads to restricting the mind of an individual and not inculcating the habit of "out of the box" thinking.
The only objective part of most standardized tests is scoring, when done by an accurately programmed machine. All the details of the test from deciding what items to include on the test, to which answer is scored correct, is done by subjective human beings. In addition to this, all tests have "measurement error" making the scores extremely unreliable.
Most test-makers review items for obvious biases, such as offensive words. But many forms of bias are not superficial. Test-makers also use statistical bias-reduction techniques. However, these cannot detect underlying bias in the test's form or content. As a result, biased cultural assumptions built into the test as a whole often, are not removed by test-makers. Also, multiple choice and short answer type questions are very poor yardsticks of student learning. They are weak measures of the ability to comprehend complex material. They do not adequately measure thinking skills and what people can do on real-world tasks.
These tests do not reflect current knowledge about how students learn. While our understanding of the brain and how people learn and think has progressed enormously, standardized tests have remained the same. Test makers still assume that knowledge can be broken into separate bits and that people learn by absorbing these individual parts. Today, cognitive and developmental psychologists understand that knowledge is not separable into bits and that people learn by connecting what they already know with what they are trying to learn. If they cannot actively make meaning out of what they are doing, they do not learn or remember.

Considering the drawbacks of standardized testing, there is a need to introduce changes in the present education system, especially, with regard to standardized testing. India has been following the practice of standardized testing since times immemorial. The system needs to be reformed by making it more interactive and student friendly. The only reason standardized tests can be a good measure is that they are quantifiable and allow easy comparisons between different students. For a potential candidate to be selected to a reputed university there must be a provision for the assessment of their overall development which can be analyzed through interviews, group discussions, debates, extracurricular activities and sports. Therefore, standardized tests can be a good measure for assessing a student's academic ability; however, it is not the only measure.

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